They Never Got to Take Three Steps Back

According to medical evidence, Youssef Hassan Al-Ramouni took his life by hanging himself. An autopsy was done and all members of the examining board, including a representative of the family, agreed. For whatever reason or lack of a reason, Al-Ramouni decided he didn’t want to live anymore.

Blessed are You, L-rd our G‑d and G‑d of our fathers, G‑d of Abraham, G‑d of Isaac and G‑d of Jacob, the great, mighty and awesome G‑d, exalted G‑d, who bestows bountiful kindness, who creates all things, who remembers the piety of the Patriarchs, and who, in love, brings a redeemer to their children’s children, for the sake of His Name.

     — From the daily Amidah prayers

That conclusion wasn’t good enough for his family, his friends, and two men who lived in East Jerusalem. They decided that Al-Ramouni had to have been killed, despite all physical evidence to the contrary. But why? Why?

Well, if you’re going to make up a crime, you have to make up a motive, right? And so they did. Nationalist Jews (shouldn’t all Jews in Israel be nationalist…ah, a different article, that question)…so right wing, extremist, rope-totting Jews bent on retaliation for….for…for…ah, yes, for the stabbing of a Haredi Jew with a screwdriver, managed to get inside a bus standing at the bus depot in Har Hotzvim (northern Jerusalem) and forcibly hang a man who wanted to live…without leaving a single mark of violence on his body or at the scene. Talented, these Jews are…talented, I say.

He sustains the living with loving kindness, resurrects the dead with great mercy, supports the falling, heals the sick, releases the bound, and fulfills His trust to those who sleep in the dust. Who is like You, mighty One! And who can be compared to You, King, who brings death and restores life, and causes deliverance to spring forth!

      — From the daily Amidah prayers

So, that’s the first equation that doesn’t add up – if the Jews wanted to get a message across to Arabs in general – wouldn’t they make a point of doing something loud and barbaric…like, maybe attacking a mosque during prayer and killing as many people as they could with an axe and guns? No, actually, they wouldn’t because our culture tells us that there is justice in all things and that attacking an innocent person is not the road to justice at all.

O behold our affliction and wage our battle; redeem us speedily for the sake of Your Name, for You G‑d are the mighty redeemer. Blessed are You L-rd, Redeemer of Israel.

Heal us, O L-rd, and we will be healed; help us and we will be saved; for You are our praise. Grant complete cure and healing to all our wounds; for You, Almighty King, are a faithful and merciful healer. Blessed are You L-rd, who heals the sick of His people Israel.

     — From the daily Amidah prayers

The second equation that doesn’t work is even simpler. Let’s say, for a split second of hypothesizing, that Al-Ramouni was murdered…how does the terror attack yesterday on a synagogue in Har Nof add up as a reasonable response?

Why did those two men, cousins from East Jerusalem, decide that a fitting punishment for the supposed killing Al-Ramouni (without, of course, ever seeing the body or the evidence), would involve going into a synagogue, clear across the city to murder – by axe and by gun, as many people as they could?

And in what was clearly a carefully planned and premeditated act, they chose the right time of prayer – the silent amidah when you are focused on the words, the blessings. For those who don’t know, this prayer is the height of the prayer service, almost like physically taking three steps forward, knowing that when you do, there is a direct channel to God…and when you finish, you take three steps back, your audience with the Heavens concluded.

But in those glorious minutes between the three steps forward and the three steps back all your dreams and hopes for the present and the future flow out of you and God listens and God hears and God answers. If you haven’t experienced it, try to imagine what an amazing feeling this must give the individual and how, during those few minutes when God’s attention is centered on you…how devoted you must be, how you concentrate to say the words correctly, to bring forth the feelings you want expressed. God is listening to you. Can you imagine the power of those minutes? The world falls away; no sound gets through because you are focused solely on the words that tell God all that you need, all you want, all that you are grateful for having.

Men…people…who repeat this prayer three times a day, six days a week learn the prayer by heart and so many close their eyes, the better to avoid any distraction. Hey, when you are talking to God and God is listening, you have to focus. And these great men did.

Return in mercy to Jerusalem Your city and dwell therein as You have promised; speedily establish therein the throne of David Your servant, and rebuild it, soon in our days, as an everlasting edifice. Blessed are You L-rd, who rebuilds Jerusalem. Speedily cause the scion of David Your servant to flourish, and increase his power by Your salvation, for we hope for Your salvation all day. Blessed are You L-rd, who causes the power of salvation to flourish.

Hear our voice, L-rd our G‑d; merciful Father, have compassion upon us and accept our prayers in mercy and favor, for You are G‑d who hears prayers and supplications; do not turn us away empty-handed from You, our King, for You hear the prayer of everyone. Blessed are You L-rd, who hears prayer.

     — From the daily Amidah prayers

Wrapped in their prayer shawls, with tefillin on their head and arm, they stepped forward three steps and began their daily discussion with God. And as they did, murder and barbarity entered the synagogue. Evil, hate and revenge took the moment and left at least twenty-five orphans. The silent amidah became a nightmare of screams and pain as four men died, more than a dozen others were wounded, and still more scrambled to escape, including the young son of one of the seriously wounded men.

Families who yesterday morning lived in love and light with learned men who shared their knowledge with the whole community have become families in mourning, broken and bereft, now beginning the long road through grief and pain.

Bestow peace, goodness and blessing, life, graciousness, kindness and mercy, upon us and upon all Your people Israel. Bless us, our Father, all of us as one, with the light of Your countenance. For by the light of Your countenance You gave us, L-rd our G‑d, the Torah of life and loving-kindness, righteousness, blessing, mercy, life and peace. May it be favorable in Your eyes to bless Your people Israel, at all times and at every moment, with Your peace.

     — From the daily Amidah prayers

For the cousins, the families that “nurtured” them and their hatred, the future is likely to be less bright, and rightly so. Others have written of the anger they feel, and so I won’t say more than that I share that anger. Others have written of the injustice, the pain, the barbarity. That too is a point of agreement, but not the point I want to make here.

Here, I’d like to question the mathematical mind of Islam, of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas – you name the person or entity, and I’ll present the question.

In what culture does someone hang an innocent man because someone stabbed and lightly wounded someone else and, what would Israeli doctors (along with a Palestinian doctor) gain by lying about the results of the autopsy? That’s the first illogical equation that doesn’t add up. Al-Ramouni killed himself – we could make up a thousand reasons why and perhaps we’ll never know. Certainly, if he was having problems, his family will never admit it now.

In what culture does someone go into a place of worship and murder by axe and by gun, four innocent, unarmed, men – husbands, fathers and grandfathers who were wrapped in their prayer shawls? That two is an equation we will never balance.

In a world where CNN likes to report that two Arabs and four Jews (and now a Druze) died yesterday, the numbers will never work. CNN’s pathetic apology notwithstanding, the simple fact is that yesterday’s attack had nothing to do with the suicidal bus driver and everything, everything to do with the words that those precious souls were saying when they were butchered.

Blessed are You L-rd, who blesses His people Israel with peace. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable before You, L-rd, my Strength and my Redeemer.

  — From the daily Amidah prayers

Yesterday’s terror attack, like the one before that and the one before that and the one that will come and the one after that – has nothing to do with the Temple Mount, nothing to do with Al-Ramouni, nothing even, really, to do with Jerusalem. And it had everything to do with the bloodied prayer shawls and prayer books and the dead bodies BBC didn’t want Naftali Bennet to show their audience.

The absurd rationalizations for the attack make no sense but the attack itself does. Because what they attacked was the right target for their hatred. It has never been about the settlements; it has never been about revenge. It has always been about what those men were doing, who they were, and how they lived their lives.

My G‑d, guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking deceitfully. Let my soul be silent to those who curse me; let my soul be as dust to all.

Open my heart to Your Torah, and let my soul eagerly pursue Your commandments.

As for all those who plot evil against me, hasten to annul their counsel and frustrate their design. Let them be as chaff before the wind; let the angel of the L-rd thrust them away. That Your beloved ones may be delivered, help with Your right hand and answer me.

Do it for the sake of Your Name; do it for the sake of Your right hand; do it for the sake of Your Torah; do it for the sake of Your holiness.

     — From the daily Amidah prayers

For the families, there will be love and light again, they will, in time, find that the blessings of the lives of these men will blur the horrible last moments of their lives. They will raise their children dedicated to all that these men believed in, stronger than ever in their belief. All that these men taught will live on and be shared.

They took three steps forward to begin a conversation with God that will never end.

About the Author
Paula R. Stern is CEO of WritePoint Ltd., a leading technical writing company in Israel. Her personal blog, A Soldier's Mother, has been running for more than 5 years. She lives in Maale Adumim with her husband and children, a dog, too many birds, and a desire to write her thoughts and dream of a trip to Italy, Scotland, and beyond.
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